The future is now

Chilean neurotechnology companies launch stunning products

Infratec unveils a new technology to help track Parkinson’s symptoms — while Backyard Brains’ latest gadget allows you to control a cockroach with bluetooth.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013  
The RoboRoach. Photo via Backyard Brains. The RoboRoach. Photo via Backyard Brains.

 

Chile’s now well-established role as a haven for innovation has once again paid dividends — this time in the field of neuroscience.

Last month at an event organized by Fundación Imagen de Chile, Chile-based biotechnology company Backyard Brains and medical start-up Infratec from Valparaíso both showcased incredible new technologies, the development of which was made possible by the Start-up Chile business incubator and the Chilean Economic Development Agency’s (CORFO) Seed Capital Program respectively.

Infratec’s Parksys system enables researchers to diagnose and track the progress of neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s, allowing doctors to more accurately prescribe treatment regimens and thereby improving patients’ quality of life.

The technology is the first of its kind, and uses an infrared camera to record symptoms of Parkinson’s and to monitor their intensity over time.

“Assigning a scale of values to patients’ systems, generating statistics and protocols, has been the essential contribution of Parksys, a product which will soon be launching in the market after completing prototype and clinical testing phases,” Infratec General Manager Ítalo Bavestrello said at the event.

Meanwhile, Backyard Brains showed-off the “world’s first commercially available cyborg,” developed right here in Chile. Originally from the U.S., the company’s founders joined the Start-Up Chile program in 2012.

The cyborg — called Bluetooth RoboRoach — involves a small small electronic “backpack” attached to an insect, such as a cockroach. Users can then control the movements of the cockroach by wirelessly stimulating the insect’s antenna nerves via a Bluetooth device.

“The RoboRoach provides a powerful and direct demonstration of the electrical nature of neural activity, and is a great way to get people excited and informed about neuroscience without the need for any expensive, specialized equipment,” founder Tim Marzullo said.

As well as RoboRoach, Backyard Brains demonstrated another new technology called Spikerbox. The innovation allows users to measure the neuro-activity of insects using a smartphone, and is yet another example of the company’s goal of “making neuroscience available to everyone.”

Executive Vice President of CORFO Hernán Cheyre praised both companies’ pioneering scientific advancements.

“In the Year of Innovation, projects like these show that Chile has what it takes to be a platform for groundbreaking technologies in neuroscience,” Cheyre said. “We are proud to support these entrepreneurs as they grow and develop their technology.”